Five Strikes And You’re Out! Plus, Houston We Have A Problem…

A lot of back and forth in Rhode Island over Race To The Top.   The teachers’ union there is not down with the Obama Administration’s requirements around teacher effectiveness.   But they apparently also can’t live with the idea that after three years of an unacceptable evaluation a teacher would lose their license.   The standard they want is, seriously, five years of poor evaluations.  Given what we know about the effects of under-performing teachers – especially on low-income youngsters — this stance is literally pick jaw up off floor time…

Meanwhile, the new school superintendent in Houston liked AFT President Randi Weingarten’s speech the other day but this is praise Weingarten does not want.  The Houston Chronicle has the story and the exchange of press releases between the sup’t and Weingarten.     The sup’t, Terry Grier, sent a letter saying that the district wanted to use value-added test scores as part (and explicitly not as the sole criteria) of teacher evaluation, as Weingarten had said was OK the other day.  Weingarten counters the sup’t is distorting her position.   It’s hard to glean that from the sup’ts letter or the proposal though. 

So, what’s probably going on here is that the local union, painted into a corner by the Weingarten speech and the sup’ts invoking of it, demanded help and said that Weingarten’s speech was being used to justify the firing of teachers (albeit low-performers).   As a national union president that puts Weingarten in a bind and illustrates the local needs/national imperatives tension she has to balance.  But it’s exactly the bind that makes a lot of observers wonder if she can deliver her membership on the issues she’s promising nationally.

14 Replies to “Five Strikes And You’re Out! Plus, Houston We Have A Problem…”

  1. Didn’t you read Randi’s speech? I couldn’t cut and paste from her speech, but it was word-for-word the same as the following passage from her response. As I wrote in thisweekineducation, I support Randi’s new proposal. I would never accept the Houston proposal, and I’d expect any union to spend whatever is necessary to destroy it in Court. I’d just hope that the administrators who sparked such a legal Battle of Verdun would be fired.

    At any rate, Weingarten reminded the super that:

    “My full proposal calls for rigorous and regular reviews, conducted by trained expert and peer evaluators and principals. Other elements of the new path forward that I envision include a fresh approach to due process for teacher misconduct cases, and providing teachers with the tools, time and trust they need to do their jobs. One of the most important elements of my proposal–apparently another part of my plan overlooked by Superintendent Grier–was a call for new labor-management relationships in which teachers and administrators can collaborate on the reforms needed in public education.”

  2. These unions continue to appall me. Just imagine if private industry allowed their employees five years of ungoverned and poor performance! There is so much fundamental change needed in our system of education…I can’t wait to help!

    -Incoming 2010 TFA corps member

  3. Also, if you have an understanding of hardcore schools, you would understand why great teachers in those schools wouldn’t be able to meet growth targets in three (or five) years. A want to remove lousy teachers and I’ve taught with plenty. But I’ve taught with teachers who are as great as any. (I consider myself one of those superstars), but it is not humanly possible for ANYONE in our school to hit growth targets. You want to drive us from the profession?

    How many games did Steve Carlton lose at the peak of his career while playing on a losing team? Every failing school, like every losing team in sports, has allstars. You would drive them from the profession?

  4. John Thompson,

    What is the difference between the two proposals? Are you saying that if Houston does not do all of the things Weingarten proposed they are at fault for doing any of them?

  5. I’m on the Houston Board of Education, and Eduwonk is exactly right. While the HISD has never followed the lead of the AFT, BOTH Randi Weingarten and Superintendent Terry Grier very clearly said teacher evaulations should include but not be limited to test scores – more important, both clearly said that the scores should be based on student-specific growth measures.

    HISD’s new policy is as much about tying valid multi-year academic growth measures to meaningful and timely professional development as it is about the improved valuations themselves. Recognizing weaknesses we commonly find in principals, the policy also adds several factors to their professional evaluations as well. HISD recognizes it needs to improve the evaluation process in many ways, and more substantive, authentic, and timely principal evaluation, including not only growth in academic achievement but meaningful classroom observation, mentoring and feedback is needed as well. In fact, our most effective teachers will hopefully soon enter a new career path that includes mentoring – help from those that are most effective to those who need the help. Great things can come to children from facing the reality and learning from the data.

    There is simply no way that someone can credibly say that this policy was about firing teachers for test scores alone – in fact, “Insufficient student academic growth as measured by value-added scores” is now one of 34 possible reasons for non-renewal – and most parents and teachers are pretty glad that academic achievement growth is finally in the top 34 things we evaluate teachers on.

    So it was simply incredible to read Weingarten’s angry and misdirected attack on Dr. Grier that came out just as our board meeting began – and as soon as the local AFT chapter screamed to demand backup.

    Either Weingarten didn’t read Dr. Grier’s statement or our new policy, or she didn’t mean what she said in her press conference the day before. Either way, the sooner the public knows where the AFT really stands when it comes to facing the fact that effective teaching matters, and varies between teachers, the better for all of us.

    Harvin C. Moore
    Trustee and Past President
    Houston Independent School District
    Board of Education

  6. I am a sitting board member of Parents for Public Schools in Houston and founder of Parent Visionaries, a Houston based parent advocacy and watchdog organization. Our mission is to use the power of the parent voice to ensure that ALL HISD students are recipients of an excellent public education and the strong support they need to thrive regardless of the zip code they happen to live in.  Our members believe we need to stand up for our children now – particularly for their education from pre-school through high school – to create a better future for our city, state and nation. In short, we are a burgeoning community of parents who are determined to make our school district work well for children.

    Parents from across the district support the steps taken by Dr. Griier and the Board of Education to modify a policy that allows for consideration of student learning and growth in contract renewal decisions that are made by campus principals. Value-added data is simply one of at least 33 other factors principals can already consider in determining the effectiveness of their staff. Dr, Grier and the Board have never once said that test scores will be the sole reason for non-renewal of contracts – not once.

    Informed parents understand that the most important person in any school is the one standing in front of their child. We want teachers supported, empowered, valued, appreciated and equipped to succeed in the classroom. And, we are pleased that with the Board’s actions this past Thursday, campus principals will now be held accountable for the process by which teachers are nutured, developed, and supported in every classroom for the benefit of student learning and growth.

    Informed parents have closely followed reporting on this issue over the past week and the non-stop pipeline of inflammatory headlines, incomplete reporting, misinformation, decoy, and distraction. We stand behind Dr. Grier and truly appreciate his commitment for increase rigor, to ensure high quality teachers are in front of every student, and to implement tougher standards for excellence (regardless of what the Texas Governor does).

    Together, we will make Houston the best urban school system in the nation as measured by student outcomes. Period.

    Mary Nesbitt
    Founder, Parent Visionaries
    VP Parents for Public Schools
    Mother of Third Graders

  7. Three years is already too generous. After one year with a bad evaluation, the teacher should be able to demonstrate steps they’re taking throughout the following year to improve, and should certainly show marked improvement by the end of year two.

    On the other side of the coin, there has to be a reasonable expectation for teachers that these evaluations won’t be subjective or influenced by politics, personal or otherwise.

  8. Jason,

    Good luck in teaching. I just hope you’ll keep an open mind, and learn to roll with the punches. Also remember “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”


    You were the only commenter who addressed teachers’ arguments, so I’ll explain further. I’ve never met her, but clearly Randi’s point is that we must work together to efficiently fire ineffective teachers, but that requires trust and she correctly said that the superintendent was “purposely misinterpreting my remarks.”

    No union (and Jason I would say no self-respecting teacher) would turn the power of firing teachers over to a primitive statistical model that it far more sensitive in school conditions than the quality of teachers. We can not turn that powerful weapon over to the administrators whose policies allowed the deplorable conditions that make it impossible to teach effectively. But in the hands of a peer review committee, we could seek out imperfect data from those flawed models, and then together we could use them as tools for data-informed, evidenced-based decisions to remove ineffective teachers.

    Otherwise, Mr. Moore, that VAM and everyone who seeks to use it in a manner which is scientifically invalid must be treated as a hostile witness. If you were a defendent in Court, and your opponent had created a house of cards, would you prohibit your attorney from cross examining in your defense and destroying your oppoent’s shoddy evidence?

    I suggest you get your district’s attorneys together and conduct a moot court. Watch as one of your district’s attorneys destroys your district’s other attorney as he tries to argue in a hypothetical case why evidence from VAMs should stand in court. Follow the evidence of why models that are largely tested in elementary classes, with less sorting, and under conditions where administrators seek to distribute students equally, are applicable for neighborhood secondary schools where the easily educated students have been creamed away. Watch your attorneys challenge evidence against a teacher at a hardcore inner city schools where attendance and discipline policies are not enforced – based on decisions by the principal, the central office, you and the rest of the board -, and why the metrics coming from the statistical black box you authorized is germane to that teacher. Remember, you will have the burden of proof. I will be up to you to prove that a teacher who FOR REASONS NOT UNDER HIS CONTROL loses much, if not the majority, of class time to students; absenses, suspensions, disruptions, etc. can be held to the same standards as teachers who face few of those challenges. Watch the math experts who devised those alghorythms try to explain how they’ve accounted for those factors. It won’t be pretty for your side.

    You might get lucky and get trial and appeals judges to win some cases. But even in Texas, I doubt many of your cases withstand appeal. And across the nation districts will lose the ovewhelming majority.

    But the real losers will be the kids. Tragically, many of the “winners” will be teachers who deserved to be fired. But they deserved to be fired after an efficient and valid process. Then years after the legal trench warfare squanders millions, we’ll still face the same challenge – the need to build trusting relationships, peer review, evidenced-based decision-making, data-informed accountability, and a system that puts the needs of students over the conflicts of adults.

  9. The bottom line is this: would you want your child to have a poor teacher for five years? If these teachers shouldn’t teach your child then they shouldn’t teach anyone’s child. Period.

  10. Jason said:

    “Just imagine if private industry allowed their employees five years of ungoverned and poor performance!”

    Kind of sounds like the banking industry to me.

    By the way, good luck making a difference in teaching with your anti-worker sentiment. Let us know when you quit TFA to take that killer job as an Eco-Tour Director in Costa Rica or to follow your girlfriend to grad school. I may want to keep tabs on Facebook.

  11. There is a school in Rhode Island that received a grant to help expand community partnerships. This resulted in more external partners coming into the school during regular and after-school hours. The front office staff filed a union grievance saying that the new situation created too much work for them because they had to buzz and sign more people into the building.

  12. In “The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching”, I believe Martin Haberman says it better in the following excerpt…

    “Having learned to navigate in urban schools based on the pedagogy of poverty, students will not readily abandon all their know-how to take on willy-nilly some new and uncertain system that they may not be able to control.

    For any analysis of pedagogical reform to have meaning in urban schools, it is necessary to understand something of the dynamics of the teacher/student interactions in those schools.

    The authoritarian and directive nature of the pedagogy of poverty is somewhat deceptive about who is really in charge. Teachers seem to be in charge, in that they direct students to work on particular
    tasks, allot time, dispense materials, and choose the means of evaluation to be used. It is assumed by many that having control over such factors makes teachers “decision makers” who somehow shape the behavior of their students. But below this facade of control is another, more powerful level on which students actually control, manage, and shape the behavior of their teachers.

    Students reward teachers by complying. They
    punish by resisting. In this way students mislead teachers into believing that some things “work” while other things do not. By this dynamic, urban children and youth effectively negate the values
    promoted in their teachers’ teacher education and undermine the nonauthoritarian predispositions
    that led their teachers to enter the field. And yet, most teachers are not particularly sensitive to being
    manipulated by students. They believe they are in control and are responding to “student needs,” when, in fact, they are more like hostages responding to students’ overt or tacit threats of noncompliance and, ultimately, disruption.

    It cannot be emphasized enough that, in the real world, urban teachers are never defined as incompetent because their “deprived,” “disadvantaged,” “abused,” “low-income” students are not learning. Instead, urban teachers are castigated because they cannot elicit compliance. Once schoolsmade teacher competence synonymous with student control, it was inevitable that students would sense who was really in charge.

    The students’ stake in maintaining the pedagogy of poverty is of the strongest possible kind: it absolves them of responsibility for learning and puts the burden on the teachers, who must be accountable for making them learn. In their own unknowing but crafty way, students do not want to trade a system which they can make their teachers ineffective for one in which they wouldthemselves become accountable and responsible for what they learn. It would be risky for students toswap a “try and make me” system for one that says, “Let’s see how well and how much you really can do.”
    1. James D. Raths, “Teaching Without Specific Objectives,” Educational Leadership, April 1971,
    pp. 714-20.
    2. James A. Mecklenburger, “Educational Technology is Not Enough,” Phi Delta Kappan, October
    1990. p 108.
    3. Madeleine Grumet, Women and Teaching (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988),
    MARTIN HABERMAN is a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin,

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